by Lesly Ely
As students in the U.S. return to school, we wanted to give you an update on the status of our students as they are nearing the end of a challenging school year.
Since April, students in rural schools have been doing their schoolwork at home. Parents of elementary school students go in person to the school once a week to get new assignments and a small bag of food for student lunches. The government of Guatemala has been providing this food, and now they are giving fruit or vegetables for each student.
Intermediate level students do their homework via the Internet or television. They do not receive food. Most of them have a cell phone and access to WhatsApp, and receive and deliver their assignments this way.
The president of Guatemala recently announced that there will be not yet be any scheduled international air service -- only private flights. They are trying to decide when international tourism can be reopened. Currently, they are asking for a letter for each person who enters the country saying that a coronovirus test was done and is negative. At this point, it is not known when commercial flights will resume.
The good news is that students in our scholarship program have not experienced any cases of the virus. In the communities, people are being very careful and they hardly go out to avoid contact. A month ago restaurants and some shops were reopened, so there is a little more income for families, except for those that make embroidery and fabrics and sell them to tourism. This is the main economic income for families in our program villages.
The Guatemalan school year ends in October, and it has been decided that students will finish classes from home. The government has not yet decided if in-person schooling will reopen in January, 2021.
Our Guatemalan staff members are very grateful for the monetary support that is being sent to the students and the bags of food that have been distributed, which has given a lot of relief and joy to families in our program.
We are deeply saddened to hear of the unexpected passing of Sister Connie of the Maryknoll Contemplative Community in Lemoa, Guatemala. Connie was a source of inspiration and hope to countless people in both Guatemala and the United States. Her incredibly generous and ecumenical spirit will be missed profoundly.
Connie lived life on her own terms, and those terms were tough. She had strong opinions and delivered them in an even stronger Bronx accent. She had no patience for greed and corruption. She felt that change in Guatemala was only going to come from the bottom up.
Unlike many opinionated people, she put her money where her mouth was. She dedicated her life to helping those in extreme need. And she got a lot done.
She was building homes for poor families in Lemoa long before we started, and our own home-building program was based on her work up to that point. She knew widows and orphans from the civil war, and always had a list of the neediest. She put us in contact with local leadership to help identify schools that needed better facilities. More recently, she helped start a nutrition program in Lemoa which is doing great work.
I consider myself fortunate to have spent so much time in Connie's company. She was one of those rare people who change the course of your life without you knowing it. I will miss her deeply.
Constance Pospisil joined the Maryknoll order on February 12, 1957, as a nurse from Rockville Centre, N.Y. She began work in Chile in 1961 in clinics and in community-based health education programs. In 1982 she returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in New York. In 1989 Sister Connie was assigned to Brazil, where she worked to establish a health center for women on the northeast coast. Sister Connie joined the Maryknoll Contemplative Community in Lemoa, Guatemala in 2004, where with Sister Helen Werner she maintained a prayer presence. She also started a number of initiatives to help community members improve their lives. Connie was a board member of our local Pura Vida NGO in Guatemala.
[ Photos of Sister Connie from 2005+ ]
by Mark Ely, Executive Director
A look at how our students and their families are handling the COVID-19 crisis.
Jaime and his family are currently sheltering at home. His father is working, since he is a baker and it is a daily consumer product. They go to work with the necessary sanitary measures and they return before the curfew. They have more time to share, they do some family activities such as tidying up the house, sweeping, and playing. Likewise, Jaime is studying via virtual platform, and is making the most of his time so that he is able to resume classes without delay when they resume.
Angélica's father is only able to work half a day due to the curfew. The members of the family are sheltered in their home. The children are helping the mother to clean the house, wash the dishes, collect reeds in the grove, among other activities. Before the suspension of classes, Angélica was doing her teaching practice in a small rural school. To take advantage of the free time, she is working on the materials she will use when classes resume.
Things are complicated for Marta and her mother. Government restrictions and a fall in demand resulted in the shutdown of the cooperative where Marta's mother sells her woven reeds. For the moment they are staying at home, safeguarding the health of the family. Marta is keeping up with her school work. Her mother is still weaving reeds with hopes that they will soon be back in demand.
Related news: COVID-19 in Guatemala -- April 12, 2020
by Mark Ely, Executive Director
We have been closely monitoring the impact of the new coronavirus on our partner communities in Guatemala. Families are concerned about the situation, and the government has taken measures to avoid the spread of the virus in the country. At this time, families are sheltering in their homes.
The president of Guatemala has declared a state of emergency including the following measures:
Families must remain in their homes except for trips to buy food and essential supplies. Making the situation more difficult, markets are open only from 4:00 AM to 12:00 PM by order of the government. Since public transport has been suspended, it is difficult for rural residents to reach major markets unless they have their own means of transportation.
Since the arrival of the virus, many companies have closed. Those remaining open for business must follow sanitary measures stipulated by the government to protect their customers. Transportation companies were hit hard, with about 2,000 bus drivers and assistants losing their jobs as a result of the imposed sanitary measures.
On March 22, the federal government declared a curfew from 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM, during which time absolutely no one can be outside their home, on the streets, or somewhere in public. Violators can be detained, fined, or even sent to prison. Experts are currently recommending that the curfew be maintained through the end of April.
The Minister of Education suspended classes for the month of April. Some public and private establishments are distributing homework through virtual platforms so that students can take advantage of time at home, and then turn in the tasks done when classes resume. Many students in rural communities are taking advantage of classes provided by radio and television.
In rural communities, the indigenous leadership has established measures restricting access. For those arriving with cargo, drivers must use masks and must disinfect their vehicle in order to prevent the virus from entering the communities.
Price of some commodities has increased due to the crisis, most notably corn.
Related News: Life Under Lockdown -- April 12, 2020
By JoAnn Vogt
On June 28, thirteen Coloradans – a mixed bag of newbies and experienced Guatemala hands, teenagers and old folks, Methodists and Presbyterians, Spanish speakers and not-so-much – flew off to Houston to join two Wisconsinites for the journey to the highlands of western Guatemala. During our week at the English language camp in Lemoa, we came to bond with one another and to appreciate a beautiful part of the world.
But most of all, we came to love our schoolchildren. They ranged from fourth graders to ninth graders and had varying levels of competency in English. They were eager and enthusiastic, and we all hoped they were learning as much from us as we learned from them. They patiently tried to teach us K'iche' words and didn’t giggle more than necessary at our pronunciation. Our three teenage team members each had an adoring following, and even we old abuelas and abuelos got hugs – something I never received from my undergraduate German students back in the day.
We got in some exploring at the beginning and the end of the camp. Throughout, we were lucky to have the talented and affable Nacho (a/k/a King of the Road) as our driver, and to have Raúl as our translator (and as our future criminal defense lawyer, should we find ourselves in trouble in Guatemala).
Things I learned: (1) TSA at DIA has a problem with tuna cans in carry-on bags; (2) “don’t flush paper down the toilet” means just that; (3) loud booms at 4:30 a.m. do not necessarily mean war if you’re in Chichicastenango and it’s St. Thomas’s day; (4) the next physician accompanying a group should probably leave the surgical scissors at home (the security personnel at the Guatemala City airport were underwhelmed with Terry’s attempt to demonstrate their lack of sharpness by poking himself in the arm).
Thank you, Pura Vida, for giving us this life-changing experience, and thank you for what you do for the children of Guatemala. I see their country’s future in their faces.
by John Mezger
“Angels!” On the first morning of our visit to Chichicastenango, Guatemala, representatives from the nearby John Wesley School greeted our work group to bless us and pray. Recognizing our team and St. Luke’s for our years of work in the area, they called us “angels.” Angels abounded in and around “Chichi” that week, but they were evident in the endlessly happy and playful children, and through the eyes of their parents, whose deep gratitude was obvious every day. We were simply workers blessed to be there and share in the joy.
Our team of 27 included members and friends of St. Luke’s, as well as Sandy Teel, who met us enroute to Guatemala from her home in New Jersey. Some on the team were very experienced, having completed the trip more than a dozen times, while others were “newbies”. But the common curiosity, dedication and commitment on the part of each traveler resulted in a remarkable group experience. Trip leader John Williams and Team Leader Ron Miller led the way.
We traveled from Denver to Antigua, Guatemala on Saturday, March 23, and then rode into the mountainous area in the department of Quiche on Sunday. That day the team had the opportunity to attend the world-famous “Chichi” market of hand-crafted items, foods, and native folks with amazing persistence and negotiating skills.
Monday through Friday, the team worked. Three houses, in Chichi and two neighboring villages, were substantially completed, with roofing and floors to be added by future teams including a St. Luke’s youth team. We mixed mortar and added about six feet of elevation to each concrete block structure. Whenever they were able to visit with us the families who would be receiving these shelters were as gracious and helpful as possible. It’s difficult not to be excited about your task when you’re greeted in the early morning by a tiny child, perhaps three years old, holding a trowel and giving you a look that says “Let’s go!”!
On Wednesday the team had the opportunity to visit the school in Lemoa, serving grades one through six, that St. Luke’s and Pura Vida have been instrumental in building. More than 100 students entertained with dances and skits, and for a couple of hours everyone played athletic and educational games with the students, celebrating the success of the school and the children. It was inspiring, exhausting, and tremendous fun.
“You can see in the faces of the very young principal and teachers their earnest efforts to educate and nurture that body of children The young children pressed forward as they happily accepted the break from class to present a program of thanks, play games, and just be kids….To me, education equals opportunity. And the work done by St. Luke’s and Pura Vida to promote the education of children lays the cornerstone of opportunity.” – work team member journal entry.
The team also was able to spend time with sisters Connie and Helen from the Maryknoll Contemplative Community in Lemoa. The sisters have worked to aid and educate the poor in the region for decades. As inspirational as the children were on this trip, so was sister Helen, working hard at age 99.
During the work week, many team members took time out to visit with their sponsored students. Often, children in Guatemala are obliged to leave school prior to reaching sixth grade, to work with their families in craft production and farming. The only education available at higher grades is in private schools, which most can’t afford. The 30 students who met with their St. Luke’s sponsors may continue their education into high school and beyond, because their tuition is paid by their sponsors. St. Luke’s members who would like to sponsor students should review the Pura Vida web-site or contact Laura Richards at St. Luke’s!
Members of St. Luke’s have supported Pura Vida’s work in Guatemala with work trips since 2005, building dozens of houses and sponsoring hundreds of students. The blessings of this initiative flow both ways: “It is truly amazing what motivated and compassionate Christians can accomplish in one week in Guatemala. I’ve enjoyed seeing our team bond together in a spirit of service and make a difference…one family at a time”. – team member journal entry.
The St. Luke’s Guatemala mission team members change lives - often their own – as they bring housing, education and hope to some of the world’s most needy.
by Charlie Bouchard
February 2019 marked the fourth service trip to Guatemala for Loveland FUMC. This year we had 4 first timers and 15 folks who had been on at least one of the previous trips. I think this speaks volumes to the impact the Pura Vida Guatemala trips have had on the lives of those who have participated. We all have a better understanding of what it means to be the hands and feet of God on these trips. The first year we came down to build houses. Now we return each year to build relationships with Guatemalans, and the houses get built. I dare say the building of relationships is the enduring reward for all. It is such a joy to see our construction crew and interpreters each year - like a renewal of friendships.
As in past years, we were privileged to spend a morning at the Rosario School. Last year the Penguinos visited the school and created a memorable experience for all. This year tiburones (sharks) swam to shore at the school. Songs were sung, ropes jumped, books read, ice cream shared, and wonderful crafts created. In a highlight, Betsy (the principal of Rosario), donned the shark costume and danced with the students. Pure joy and delight were seen in the eyes of Betsy and her students.
Definition of a service trip: Doing work you could not be paid to do at home, in conditions that OSHA would never approve, and being grateful for the opportunity. I wrote that on my first trip to Guatemala in 2016. When we get out of our comfort zone, I believe it is easier to see God’s love in action and our faith is rewarded. I encourage all to be “sharks out of water” and get your fins dirty on a service trip. The swim is worth it!
By Samantha Hansen
While El Volcán de Fuego brought into question the possibility of our trip, I am beyond excited to say our trip was completely unaffected. While in Chichicastenango, we visited markets, practiced haggling, and met many people making a living selling their handiwork, or more accurately, art.
Our mission was to teach English to the children of the John Wesley School in Santa Cruz del Quiché. We ran our English Camp in Lemoa where 4th through 9th graders came and practiced with us every day for a week. Between classes, we visited the Mayan Ruins, the John Wesley School, the nutrition center, and two American women, Sister Connie and Sister Helen, who had served in Guatemala for many years.
During class, we taught the kids through immersion, meaning we spoke almost exclusively in English around them. The kids plowed through units faster than we could've imagined. We taught a wide range of things, including colors, family members, weather, and foods.
This was important because education is not something these kids can, or ever would, take for granted. Education is a privilege, not a right, yet in America we fail to comprehend that. Giving these kids an opportunity at an education in a second language is extremely important, and a significant add on to a limited education system.
We all felt blessed to be there, and many of us are already making plans to go back again next summer. It feels good to make a difference, especially if it means serving the Lord as well.